Games can reduce addictive cravings but is this just switching vices?

A study by psychologists, from Plymouth University and Queensland University of Technology, has revealed that playing Tetris for as little as three minutes at a time can weaken cravings for drugs, food and certain activities by one fifth (20%).

The study found that cravings happen when people visualise using a substance, but playing a game like Tetris occupies the mental processes that support imagery, making it difficult to imagine using a substance, thus reducing cravings. This study shows that playing a game like Tetris serves as a distraction, but surely any visually stimulating game could be used and still serves the same purpose of reducing cravings.

Many people with an addiction are vulnerable to cross addiction and tend to have an addictive personality, meaning that they cannot fully recover from addiction unless they have completely recovered from their primary addiction. Encouraging them to play a game could put them at risk of developing game addiction. Don’t forget, game addiction can be just as dangerous to one’s health as any other addiction and can be very expensive for people with gaming addiction (just 0.15% of mobile gamers account for 50% of the $7.8 billion market revenue). There are lots of mobile games on the market (Candy Crush, Flappy Birds, Angry Birds, Temple Run) that have had high levels of use due to their addictive nature, but they don’t offer anything that gamers can use in the real world.

‘Freemium’ games are designed to get the user addicted so that they purchase in-game add-ons, a method that the developers rely on to make the game profitable. This is a successful system that has been copied over the years (‘Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff’ is a rehash of ‘The Simpsons Tapped Out’).

However, this could be a particularly hazardous environment for those using games to reduce their cravings, as it ‘pressures’ them into making purchases in order to continue. For the majority of mobile gamers, ‘freemium’ games are harmless, but for a small percentage of the market they are damaging (the 0.15% of users that account for 50% of the market are spending, on average, $5,720 per user).

Instead of using games like Tetris, it may be better to encourage people with an addiction to play games that encourage learning and result in positive behaviour change. There are plenty of ‘brain-training’ games on the market that will result in a more positive outcome than playing games like Tetris, which don’t offer many benefits other than getting better at the game itself.

Anyone looking to beat their primary addiction should be wary of the dangers of gaming addiction. Gaming addiction can have a big impact on an individual’s finances, health and lifestyle – making it just as dangerous as any other type of addiction. This is a potentially life-changing study that, if applied in moderation, can help people reduce their cravings and ultimately kick their addiction.